The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, declared, how important it is to be granted respect in one’s life. A person deserves respect in youth and in adulthood, and those among us who are the most vulnerable deserve the highest degree of that honorable treatment.
I recently watched a special-interest show where a couple in their 60s were documented over a period of ten years, but not just any ten years: it was the decade following the wife’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. The more time that passed in the documentary, the harder it was to watch her cognitive decline.
It was also very difficult to witness the effects of the wife’s illness on the husband: weight was gained, stress became unmanageable, and he even thought about ending his life. At the end of the episode, the CBS interviewer asked the husband if he still loved his wife, to which the husband responded that he loved the woman his wife used to be, but not the woman she had become. I tried to resist the way his sentiment made me feel.
I experienced the decline and loss of my father, and the decline and loss of my sister-in-law, both of whom died from complications of Alzheimer’s disease: Dad in 2007, my sister-in-law in 2012. My brother never stopped loving his wife as he performed the learn-as-you-go tasks of caring for someone with worsening cognitive impairment. Although a novice at caregiving, my brother managed to glom onto the concept of respecting the bride to whom he had committed for better or worse. Was it easy to love the person she had become, especially with her erratic and sometimes combative behavior? No, not easy, but he was wise enough to know that she was still the woman he married almost 25 years prior.
I had it easy, well, no, I didn’t. Being my father’s primary care person wasn’t at all easy, but throughout his declining health, he maintained that sweetheart of a personality he always exhibited throughout his life. I guess it was the luck of the draw that Dad kept his sense of humor and gentleness until the end. Being fully transparent with you, I have to say the typical behavior associated with cognitive decline really shook my foundation and there were times I verbally lashed out at him because I’m one of 6.8 billion people in this world (as of August 2018) who is far from a perfect specimen of a human being.
I allowed myself to hate the disease and everything it had done to my father and to my family, but I couldn’t stop loving the man, who, along with my mother, guided my path from infancy to maturity. I blame my father for not letting me get away with anything. I blame him for being strict about managing my finances. He’s the reason why I have a sense of humor so I blame him for that as well. And I blame both my parents for impressing upon me that I would never regret being kind towards others, that I should never judge others whose experiences are different from my own, that when all is said and done, we’re all equally flawed, and equally worthy of respect.
So I now blame Mom and Dad for helping me come to a compassionate place of not judging the aforementioned husband’s statement about the way he feels about his wife. I can hold kind thoughts towards him, knowing that everyone’s caregiving experience is different; that I have no right to consider my or my brother’s experiences as being more honorable than the husband’s.
Bottom line: respect is warranted regardless of the circumstances. We would all hope others would treat us with respect, isn’t that right? So I say this about that husband’s caregiving experience: You are a hero to many, and you are a hero to me. Bless you, for walking the difficult path you’ve been given. Bless you, for always doing what is best for your wife, and not what is most expedient.
My definition of a hero:
Ordinary people, doing the ordinary right thing, at an extraordinary time.
My novel, Requiem for the status quo, is a fictional treatment of my caregiving experiences with my father.